Ridley Scott is one of Hollywood’s most hit-or-miss directors. For every Blade Runner or Thelma & Louise, he makes a Hannibal or Black Hawk Down (seriously Black Hawk Down is awful). Although even his worst films are visually dynamic and interesting movies; sometimes, he just gets bad scripts to work with (or the studio meddles too much with his final product, ala the underrated Kingdom of Heaven). I think the man just doesn’t know what movies to pass on. Or perhaps it’s just an ability to constrain himself in his films. Anyways, his 1970s to early 90s productions were generally pretty great, and for a very 1980s style action flick, 1989’s Black Rain was a compelling, smart, and stylish action thriller with just enough original gimmicks going for it that you didn’t care that the story followed a fairly predictable path.
Nick Conklin (Fatal Attraction‘s Michael Douglas) is a semi-dirty cop with the NYPD. With a penchant for fast motorcycles, Nick is also under investigation from internal affairs for skimming money off the top of a drug bust. When he and his partner Charlie Vincent (The Untouchables‘ Andy Garcia) bust a Japanese crime lord for murder, they are tasked with escorting him back to Japan. However, the crime lord’s associates pretend to be cops and help the crime lord escape at the airport. Now, it’s up to Nick, Charlie, and Japanese inspector Masahiro (Ken Takakura) to recapture the criminal Sato and get at the heart of a Yakuza-fueled gang war that is tearing the Osaka criminal underworld apart.
I thought I was going to have trouble buying Michael Douglas as a bad-ass biker cop with an attitude. He’s such a stereotypical Hollywood pretty boy (not an insult. just a fact), but then I remembered that Romancing the Stone existed, and his turn as the cocksure Nick was a pleasant surprise. Douglas has just the right sensitivity to make the character more than just a one-note caricature of arrogant American swagger, and a natural chemistry arose between him and Andy Garcia as well as Ken Takakura. Andy Garcia brought the necessary comic relief to the movie and provided one of the film’s most memorable sequences when he and Ken Takakura did a Ray Charles number at a karaoke bar. I’m unsure if Ken Takakura is a native English speaker, but regardless, he also turned the initially unsympathetic Masahiro into a three-dimensional figure as well.
It’s odd (knowing my usual tastes in movies) that I truly enjoyed Black Rain as much as I did. There was nothing especially insightful about the film. But, the way that it painted the differences in demeanor between the brash hotshot New York detective and the traditional, group-oriented Japanese inspector was something that hadn’t been overdone to death yet at the time, and most films of the same ilk that I’ve seen since don’t do it half as well. As someone who’s lived abroad, the film captures quite well how easy it is to get lost in other cultures and the clashes that can occur when two very strong-willed people/groups collide. Ridley Scott’s direction is also great. Like his whole ouevre, Black Rain is gorgeous to look at, and when the story hits more predictable lulls (cop says he can’t help Nick. comes back to help Nick at key moment, etc), you can always count on the film grabbing your attention visually.
I’ll keep this review short cause this isn’t exactly an art-house piece. If you’re looking for a really fun and smartly made movie that you can watch and not have to think too much during, you could do a lot worse than Black Rain. Michael Douglas continues to solidify his reputation in my mind as one of the great stars of the 80s and 90s, and I’ve always wondered why Andy Garcia didn’t become a bigger star. The only thing about this film that makes me sad (besides a certain decapitation scene… poor guy) is that it reminds me how great Ridley Scott can be when he isn’t trying to be Mr. Highbrow. With the exception of Blade Runner and maybe Alien, he’s not actually talented enough to be Mr. Highbrow. But, when he’s making great, crowd-pleasing popcorn pictures like Black Rain, he hits ’em out of the park.
Final Score: B+